Kayli held a baby chick this week. Brody painted his own nails. And Chloe made a lovely chalk self-portrait.
All of those moments warmed my heart. I smiled. I hugged my kids. And then I teared up. Again. My heart keeps breaking for a family that I don’t even know.
Writer Katie Granju’s 18 year old son Henry died on Monday. After a month’s coma. Because of a drug overdose. And a related beating.
What are your first thoughts when you read “drug” and “addiction?” I’m going to be honest with you. Brutally honest. Mine are pure heartache. Followed by at best, hands-off-ness and at worst, judgment. If I dig way-down-deep, to where the thoughts that I should really only be sharing with Jason are, I know that for me, “It could happen to anyone” has always felt caveated with “except us.”
Because I love my kids. To pieces. And we talk. And we have an amazing relationship. And I build them up. But I read Katie’s words well into the night and got over-the-top attached to her writing, their life, their story. And I realized that that intoxicating love that I have for my kids? Katie has that, too. So there has to be more to it than love. Because for most of us, that’s a given.
What it is exactly, I’m not really sure. And that’s what’s been on my mind. What’s been hurting my heart. And what I’ve been searching for. So I reached out to dozens of people and asked countless probing, intrusive questions. I talked to mommy friends, bloggy friends, high school friends, moms who were more like me (mistake-full) and moms who were more like Jason (mistake-less). Moms with little kids, bigger kids and adult kids.
Why? Because I’m absolutely terrified of doing this kind of parenting.
I thought that I had years (and years) before I had to think about anything scarier than diaper blow-outs, sassiness and wardrobe malfunctions. But parenting, our relationship with our children, all of it, is fluid. And connected. So I’m thinking about it now. While my kids are small. And still listening to me. I reached out. I dug deep. And I learned. So. Very. Much.
As good-choice-making-kids, my friends remembered being afraid, clear and busy. They were afraid of being caught, letting their parents down and breaking trust. They were clear (crystal clear) on what their parents’ expectations and values were. And what their consequences would be. They were confident, involved in many activities. And their friends weren’t into partying.
And parents whose children stayed clean? They remembered surrounding their kids with like-minded people, keeping them engaged in activities in which they found success. And talking. A lot. They formally taught their kids how to make good choices. They pried and asked a lot of questions.
That’s a lot to take in.
But the bottom line? Is that kids need high love and high control.
I’ve written a lot about the high love part. I try to live that daily and wrap my kids up in it because that’s exactly where I think they need to be, I need to be.
But in parenting, hand-in-hand with love, is control. In the form of responsibility, accountability and consequences. And that should start when kids are little. You can’t go for a decade all lovey-dovey and then suddenly come down with with all of those -itys. You know what’s right. You know what choices are okay with you. And you also know why.
Tell your kids.
Kids crave and deserve boundaries and clearly defined consequences. Consequences from you, from their bodies, their teachers, their friends, their society, everyone. They are also owed truths.
One Mama mentioned how irritated she gets when anti-drug messages aim for scare-’em-straight in lieu of real, honest information. I get it. I’m there, too. We’re all terrified of what our children might experiment with. But if we mislead them, if we lie or exaggerate, even if our hearts are in the right place, we’ll break their trust. And to them, our words will become…nothing.
Don’t be afraid to tell your kids what you know and how you came about that information. One Mama friend brilliantly said, (she) would do absolutely anything to keep her babies clean. Even if it means sharing information about her own experimenting. How she feels about it today. And why she stopped. Make it natural. Comfortable. Trust them with your story. So they can tell you theirs.
Keep the dialogue going. If your kids ask a question, or something comes up with friends, on TV, in a book, wherever, grasp the opportunity. Don’t let it slide by. Look for information on-line. Ask a doctor. Or a friend whose been there. Go hear a speaker. Most schools have them regularly. Or like one amazing couple did, take your kid to an AA meeting so they can hear a real-live person tell them real-live things. Accountability, responsibility, consequences. Prevention.
One Mama and I talked at length about what we can do, right now, with our littlest of children, to pave the way to smoother, safer peer-pressure years. Cheer them on. Unrelentingly. Instill confidence. Show trust in their abilities. Let them make decisions, mistakes, problem solve.
Give them the words to describe what they see and feel and help them draw connections to who they are and who they want to be. If they do seem to pull away from someone who is making bad choices, affirm their gut. Listening to that “icky feeling in your tummy” is a skill. And it can be taught.
Follow through whenever possible. Own up to it when you can’t, or don’t. Apologize. And fix it. That builds trust. And models accountability.
One of the Mamas that I most look up to (you know who you are) has talked directly and honestly with her children since they were really, really little. She believes in teaching them about good choices in simple ways. Cigarettes will make you really sick. That’s not a good friend choice for you because (put your own value here). That is a nice friend because (put opposite value here). She’s direct and to the point. She’s high in control. But in that control, she’s loving fiercely by protecting her kids WITH knowledge instead of FROM it.
So why am I telling you all of this? And what does any of it have to do with Jewish parenting? Well, my still-teary-take-away from Henry’s tragedy is to be there. And don’t stop parenting your kids, big or little. Even if they say that they don’t need or want you there. Because they do.
Totally teary. Love not enough, building them up, so important, honesty so critical. And then letting go. I just stopped in to give the wonderfully awesome sixth grade teacher a thank you hug the morning after graduation & he said of having kids out of the house now, that it’s so hard to know it’s theirs: the being okay, the not being okay. So you’re right: give them all of it, keep parenting (& he keeps parenting still, we all will). Keep loving, keep talking. Keep breathing & hoping or praying. Even though there are no guarantees.
How is it in such a short time, your posts have become one of my main reasons to love Fridays even more? Thank you for sharing this. My bathroom mirror is getting crowded with your articles taped to it. The better to hide those hideous pores, I guess. (half-kidding)
Have a great week, Galit.
My son is only 2 and a bit, but I always give him honest answers when he asks “Why.” It feels a bit foolish, because I’m often using words he doesn’t understand – but I tell myself as least I’m building up his vocabulary! The truth is, I see that it does hit home. He gets it. For example, he’s one of the few children I see in the supermarket who don’t open food before it’s purchased – he waits patiently (okay, sometimes he sniffs and licks the packaging), puts it on the counter, watches me pay – and then starts with “Open it! Open it!” 🙂 I tell myself – if he can understand that concept, he can understand the other rules. You’re right – it’s never too early to start teaching good behavior.
Thank you for this post. Great advice. Talking is so important, and it will provide a great model for your kids throughout their lives. Having honest, open conversations will help with everything from issues about drugs and sex to friendships, marriage, and jobs.
Good for you for recognizing your fears and doing something proactive about it!
What a wonderful thoughtful post–but then, all your posts that I have read, are ‘wonderful & thoughtful’. The job of being a parent—Oh My! It certainly is daunting in every way, but it sounds like you are on such a good path with the balance of love and openess and truth.
I was thinking about a family that I know—and this happened a very long time ago—-the ‘son’, who was into heavy drugs, has been clean for close to 35 years now. But I was thinking how back when he was using, one wondered how that happened and why. A good loving caring open family—Still, it happened. I don’t know that one can protect one’s kids with ALL the positive things one does….Some of it is a true mystery. In the case I’m talking about, his brother did not get ‘hooked’. Why one and not the other? I have no answers, but it seems to me that all you can do is everything you said and pray that THAT will be enough.
I remember when my children were born, I never worried about drugs and/or addiction because I was firm believer that if we led by example, it wouldn’t affect us.
I was a young mother and obviously somewhat foolish, because I had figured that all the love and ‘good examples’ would trump any peers and the abundant availability of whatever poison was the rage.
Boy, oh boy was I green. I really thought we’d have a trio of ‘mini mes’ running around? That couldn’t have been further from the truth! My kids have their own strengths, weaknesses and most importantly, personalities.
Fortunately they’ve made mostly good decisions, at least none that landed them in the penitentiary, but for one of them it was a rough road. I’ve not read Henry and Katie’s story yet, but my heart goes out to her because I know that it could happen to any of us. It’s frightening.
I’ve thought a LOT about this over the years. I was a good kid growing up, a really good kid – until I hit my teenage years and then all hell broke loose. I did put it all back together eventually, but many I knew didn’t. To make a very long and convoluted story short enough for a comment – the kids from good caring INVOLVED homes grew up to work through the rebellion and become successful doctors and lawyers and indian chiefs. Those that weren’t? Didn’t. Not all, of course not, but many. Too many to dismiss this.
My very biggest parenting fear? Having teenagers like my husband and I each were (not together, we didn’t meet until college, but I guess like attracts like). On the other hand, I did write if not the book then at least a pretty good chapter, so at least I’ll have half a leg up when it comes to knowing what to look for…
Of course Katie may have too… My heart breaks for her and her sweet Henry.
My photography is available for purchase – visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!
Unfortunately “love” isn’t everything. However loved a kid might feel there are other factors that might lead him/her astray. See how different members of the same household turn out to be very different grown-ups.
However a caring environment is something kids can always go back to whatever they may have done.
Galit, what a thoughtful and beautifully written post (though it feels incongruous to use those words when such a sad topic is concerned). I thoroughly agree. I call this “high expectations and high support” which is very similar to the way you put it. Right now I feel there’s something of a backlash against “overparenting” and while I find some of it to be correct and helpful, in other cases it feels to me like a backlash against love, involvement, and guidance. Personal space is vital for anybody, but so is the feeling that someone is there to notice and tell you the truth when you need to hear it. Even (especially) when you don’t want to.
And of course there’s something Jewish about it. One of the aspects of our culture I love the most is its focus on the importance of children and family life!
thank you so much ladies! i can’t tell you what it means to me to have all of your voices right here and knowing that all of us and our children will learn, garner *something* from this tragedy.
sarah– you’re always so wise. the letting go & the no guarantees are shivers-worthy-scary. i love the example of parenting (in its own way) the adult child. great to hear from you, as always; in this case especially comforting.
erica– hi! thanks for making my whole day good. you’ve got the fellowship thing down pat, friend! happy friday to you, too!
debbie– hello! *such* a great example of start ’em young in showing our expectations and values. i think it all connects to the greater picture as the years go on. we have to start somewhere, right? thanks so much for the note lady!
susan– i can’t thank you enough for those supportive, lovely words! they *truly* made me smile!
ol of the h– so great to hear from you! truly, thank you for the kind words. they mean so-very-much to me! those questions about why one child and not the others? those are some of the ones that have been keeping me up at night! i’m tearing up right now, but i’m emotional like that! thank you for connecting with me; it warms my heart!
christine– hi! thanks so much for the the thoughtful (as always) note. you, me, same figuring and thinking. it is so, so-very-jolting to realize that we imagine and hope just might not be the case! frightening, indeed. thanks much for the resonating story.
robin– hello! so great to hear from you. do i ever feel you, sister! jason was an angel. me, not so much. i just keep asking him and his mom how did that get instilled?! i think the involved part is vital. this part of parenting is just not as cut-and-dry as things have been thus far. SCARY, indeed! thanks so much for relating in so many ways!!
ilana– hi! excellent to hear from you. i think you’re 100% right. like so much else in parenting, there are layers and balance to be found. always a work in progress and (unfortunately) not a whole lot of “arriving,” “resting” or complacency to be had! thanks for the thoughtful input. it means a lot to me.
tamar– i am so happy to hear from you! thank you for such a thoughtful comment that truly resonates. i agree so-very-much with your analysis of over-parenting, its backlash and its benefits. it’s really comforting and a titch less scary to muddle through all of this as a community, isn’t it? and, btw, i *love* your jewish spin. it’s spot-on.
You are absolutely right; it is crucial to provide a positive, open, loving environment.
However, the older I get, the more I realize life is full of twists and turns. We truly wield so little control. The difference between a ‘good’, successful kid and a drug addict is often just bad timing and bad luck. Nothing more.
We can only try our best. Your posts are good encouragement to continue doing so.
Posts like these are the reason I believe in blogs. This is some really important stuff you have written. You really caused me to stop and think as a parent. (Especially the stepparent of a 16 year old!) To appreciate what I have, and to examine if I am doing what I believe I should.
The Jewish way is to constantly be finding a balance between dichotomies. You put this particular balance into great perspective.
The special quality of women to grow, learn and parent through “sharing” shows the power of this international dialogue on how we can try to get it right. TRY.
My husband uses the term “vitamin N”. Our children need a dose of no, a steady stream of boundaries, and the cultivation of wondrous powers of self-control. Not self-denial, and not repression, but the empowerment of mastery to equip them in mastery over temptations to dull the pain, to fit in at any cost, or to just make life feel easier.
Not easy. Not easy to read of this mother’s loss and pain. Not easy to even talk about. Certainly couldn’t have been easy for you to write. And isn’t that a huge part of it? Teaching by example how sometimes that which is most valuable and important is anything but easy.
hi ladies! how great to hear from you!
shira- thanks as always for your input and insight, always so very wise. you put out there probably what is most frightening about it all– it has a lot to do with timing and luck. and it’s hard to realize that and let go of the control that we so desperately seek! i suppose “trying” is where it’s at!
& ima2seven– hi stranger! so fun to hear from you! i love all that you bring to the table–the jewish connection, the balance, the vitamin n (love that!!), all of it. i really adore the what you wrote about women, blogging and the power of dialogue. the response to henry’s story has been unbelievable! katie and shane’s blogs have exceeded their bandwidth at times as people are connecting and learning from each other. that, too, is where it’s at!
You read these stories and you always think, these are the things that happen to other people. But sometimes you become “other people.” And this is the point where you have to step in, as a parent in general, as a Jewish parent in particular. You need to teach your kids that what they do can affect your family, your community, your world. Their family, their community, THEIR WORLD!
In Vayikra it tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Hillel then turned it around and put a negative spin on it — that which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. It’s our job as parents to show both the positive and negative sides of how we treat ourselves, and how this will affect others.
And I love Mr. Ima2Seven’s Vitamin N. My own Ju-boy has his version, he says, “No, and I love you.”
Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog.
I used to love baby chicks when I was little, but they can be so messy. Tell Brody his nails looks great and tell Chloe I LOVE her self portrait! she did such a great job!
mirj, hi! i think what you said is vital: kids need and have to know that their actions affect those around them. that they matter. i love the jewish connection/ lesson that you made. i think its one that kids could really relate to.
& mary, hello! thanks for lovin’ on my kiddos! much appreciated! 🙂
Great post and dialogue! A lot to think about.
thanks much, rabbi! excellent to hear from you, as always. and indeed– so very much to think & dialogue about!
What a great post! With a ‘tween’ boy I have many concerns about drugs as he gets ready to enter middle school. And the story of Henry touch my heart when I read it. Every mother’s fear realized. We live in scary times. Thank you for your honesty & heart-felt writing.
thank you so much for the visit and thoughtful comment. and, i so, so hear you– their story *is* scarily heart-wrenching. it is nice to know that there’s so many mamas reading and thinking about henry and katie and connecting to their own parenting. so happy to have connected with *you!*